The Farm Labor Organizing Committee filed a lawsuit this morning against North Carolina governor Roy Cooper over a state law that prohibits farmworkers from organizing and collectively bargaining with their employers.
According to FLOC’s press release, the lawsuit argues that “North Carolina Farm Act of 2017 impedes farmworkers’ First Amendment right to participate in unions and asserts that the law is discriminatory, as more than 90 percent of the state’s agricultural workers are Latino. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the government cannot impose special burdens on expressive associations such as unions.”
Joining the lawsuit are civil rights organizations Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the North Carolina Justice Center, along with lawyer Robert C. Willis and two individual farmworkers. FLOC is the state's only farmworker labor union.
In July, Cooper signed Senate Bill 615, making it illegal for farmers to deduct voluntary union dues from their workers’ paychecks and prohibiting workers from reaching a legal settlement as part of a union agreement.
Sponsors of that bill include state representative and former Duplin County farmer Jimmy Dixon—who, in an October interview with the North Carolina Farm Bureau’s blog, said his legislative priorities for the 2018 short session include preventing “outside groups who want to forcibly implement policies in an attempt to unionize some of our farming operations”—and state senator Brent Jackson, who owns Jackson Farming Company and was sued by Latino farmworkers for wage theft in April 2016.
Dixon snuck the amendment into the House version of the Farm Act. It prevailed 73-42 and, as the News & Observer described it, "the Senate later approved the bill with no discussion about the union limits."
The groups are asking the court to declare the law unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They are also asking the court to grant preliminary and permanent injunctions restraining state officials from enforcing the law.
“Farmworkers provide indispensable labor to North Carolina’s economy. In exchange for their sacrifices and hard work, the legislature has repaid them with suppression of their constitutional rights,” says Kristi Graunke, a senior supervising attorney at the SPLC.
“They deserve fair compensation, humane working conditions, and the ability to remedy grievances through collective bargaining. This law swings open the door for worker abuse on every farm across the state.”
FLOC will host a press conference today at eleven a.m. at the North Carolina State Legislative Building at 16 West Jones Street in Raleigh.The full press release is below.
See related PDF